VALDOSTA -- It was, well, a NCAA Division II South Region win. Fifty-seven fouls, 71 free throws and 54 turnovers later, that is.

Valdosta State opened the 2003-04 women's basketball season with a 71-59 win over Albany State Tuesday night at The Complex. An announced crowd of 662 sat through more than two hours of start-and-stop basketball.

"We ended up with a W against a Division II regional opponent." said Lady Blazers head coach Kiley Hill. "That's what we wanted to get out of it. Get the regional game out of the way and move forward to the next game and get better."

Candice Ferrell led VSU with 21 points and six rebounds. She was also one of four players with four fouls -- only VSU's Danielle Hernandez fouled out.

"Our defense was the main thing that helped us out," said Ferrell, a preseason all-Gulf South pick. "But it was kind of tough to get through the game with all the stops."

Traci Newton added 14 points, seven rebounds and six assists. Oh yes, she also had four fouls.

"We could never get going like we would like to," said Newton. "But it's a good way to start our home games and our whole season."

Valdosta State broke the game open in the first half, turning a 15-11 lead into a 33-15 advantage late in the half.

Of the 18 points, 12 (of 14 shots) came from the free throw line. Ferrell had eight of the points.

"That was a good way to go into halftime, and feel good about everything," Newton said.

The lead grew to 25 points (47-22, 13:32 left) on a Ferrell basket. The margin wavered between 15-20 points until the buzzer, when Shannon Grant hit the Lady Rams' lone 3-pointer.

Albany State did outscored VSU 40-36 in the second half after being down 35-19 at intermission.

"We began to push and press in the second half," Hill said. "We were patient in the first half, trying to let the game come to us. The second half we tried to push over the edge a bit.

"We've got to be able to maintain that lead, and understand what we are trying to do."

Albany State tried to use its depth advantage, playing all 16 players it brought. Only three played 20 or more minutes, with Shernika Powell leading the way with 12 points and four rebounds.

"The first part of any season is won by conditioning. We had eight weeks of conditioning, and we're into our fifth week of practice," said Hill, who played 10 players -- eight over 16 minutes. "We've got kids who can run for days. We want to maximize that and try to set that tempo."

VSU did outrebound Albany State, 43-32, and came up with 10 steals by seven players -- three by Amber Daniels, two by Courtney Parker.

"I thought we did a great job defensively, on the offensive and defensive boards and getting loose balls," Hill said.

VSU plays Puerto Rico-Cayey at 6 p.m. Friday at The Complex.

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